Cupolas of Paris

There are a number of cupolas in the Paris skyline. In this new series, Cupolas of Paris, we will have a look at the most prominent ones and what is hidden below them:

  • The Dôme des Invalides – 7th arrondissement – built under Sun King Louis XIV in the 17th century
  • The Panthéon – 5th arrondissement – built in the 18th century
  • The Sorbonne – 5th arrondissement – built in the 17th century
  • The Observatory – 14th arrondissement – built under Sun King Louis XIV in the 17th century
  • The Val de Grâce – 5th arrondissement – built under Sun King Louis XIV in the 17th century
  • The Institut de France – 6th arrondissement – built under Sun King Louis XIV in the 17th century
1 Invalides – 2 Panthéon – 3 Sorbonne – 4 Observatory – 5 Val de Grâce – 6 Institut de France
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The General Farmers city wall

The Ferme Générale was an outsourced customs, excise and tax collection operation created under King Louis XIV in 1681. It taxed goods coming into the city in the name of the king. Between 1784 and 1791, it built a 5m-high and 25 long wall around the city that was not meant to protect against invaders but to prevent any merchandise to enter the city without paying taxes. However, smugglers used the old quarries running under the wall in what is today the 14th arrondissement.

Two entry points of this tax wall can still be seen today: the lodges of the barrière d’Enfer at Denfert-Rochereau in the south (14th arrondissement), and the barrière du Trône at Place de la Nation (11th/12th arrondissements) to the east.

The Barrière du Trôme at Place de la Nation
The General Farmers Wall (in purple) and the location of the d’Enfer and Trône lodges
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The Charles V Wall

In the 14th century, King Charles V had a new wall built on the right bank but the Philippe Auguste wall was not demolished for all that, since it was considered so solid and wide that a cart could run on top of it.

Charles V was king of France from 1364 to 1380. His reign marks the end of the first part of the Hundred Years War, as he recovered almost all of the lands lost by his predecessors. He was a learned king who founded the first royal library, predecessor to the French National Library (Bibliothèque Nationale de France).

In 1356, Étienne Marcel, Prêvot des Marchands (a position similar to that of a mayor) had a new wall constructed on the right bank, however, he died before the works were completed. Charles V continued the fortification works following his tactics of terre déserte (“better a crushed land than a lost land”) and reinforced the Philippe Auguste wall on the left bank while creating a whole new wall on the right bank that was 5km long and consisted of a combination of ditches and earth-filled ramparts, the last of which was crowned by a small wall. The fortification extended beyond the Louvre Castle to the west, which made the castle lose its protective function. In the east, however, the residence of the king, the Hôtel Saint Pol, was poorly protected and therefore another small bastion was built: the Bastille. It protected against invasions through the Porte Sainte Antoine gate, and in case of an insurrection within Paris, it covered the road leading to the Château de Vincennes, the king’s residence outside of Paris.

The Château de Vincennes

The Charles V wall was destroyed in the 17th century, and there are few remains today. However, it left its imprint on the map of the city, as many boulevards run along the site of the fortification, such as boulevard Saint Denis, boulevard Saint Martin, boulevard du Temple, boulevard des Filles-du-Calvaire, boulevard Beaumarchais and boulevard Bourdon, to name only a few.

The purple line shows the boulevards named above – running along the Charles V wall (see map below).

In 1672, Louis XIV, the Sun King, had a triumphal arch built on the site of one of the former wall’s gates, the Porte Saint Denis. Two years later, he had another triumphal arch built about 250m away, the Porte Saint Martin. The names are misleading since neither of them was ever meant to be a gate, but to glorify Louis XIV and his military victories.

Charles V wall (orange) and Philippe Auguste wall (brown)
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Royal Squares, Circles, and Triangles

In France, and even more so in Paris, a place royale, literally a royal square, was meant to surround a royal statue, mostly an equestrian statue in the Roman tradition, but later also pedestrian statues. People could walk in the square and admire the statue of their king.
There are five places royales in Paris that have undergone changes over the course of history.

1 – Place des Vosges


Initial name: Place Royale
Inauguration: 1612
Statue: Louis XIII
Origin of the name: The French Département Vosges (in eastern France), was the first to pay its taxes under Napoléon Ier.
Location: Marais, 4th arrondissement
Story: Ordered by Henri IV, it was inauguration at the occasion of the engagement of Louis XIII with Anne of Austria.

2 – Place Dauphine


Inauguration: 1614
Statue: no statue in the square, but a statue of Henri IV stands in the middle of the Pont Neuf
Origin of the name: Named for the Dauphin, the heir apparent, the future Louis XIII.
Location: Île de la Cité, 1st arrondissement
Story: Created by Henri IV following the construction of the Pont Neuf. (It’s actually a triangle, by the way.)

3 – Place des Victoires


Inauguration: 1686
Statue: Louis XIV as Roman Emperor
Origin of the name: in celebration of the military victories of Louis XIV
Location: 1st and 2nd arrondissements
Story: Financed by the Duke de la Feuillade, Marshal of France, it is the first square created by a private individual to celebrate his sovereign. (Also it is actually a circle, not a square.)

4 – Place Vendôme


Initial name: Place Louis Le Grand (Louis XIV)
Other names: Place des Conquêtes (Conquests Square), and during the Revolution, Place des Piques (Pike Square, from the pikes on which were displayed the heads of the beheaded by the guillotine)
Inauguration: 1699
Statue: initially Louis XIV (destroyed in 1792), presently Napoléon Ier at the top of the column
Origin of the current name: The square was built in the place of the Hôtel de Vendôme, a hôtel particulier or townhouse.
Location: 1st arrondissement between rue de la Paix and the Tuileries Gardens
Story: Initiated by Louis XIV, his grand project never saw the light of day. In the end, the square was built by the City of Paris. One of its prestigious addresses houses the Ritz.

5 – Place de la Concorde


Initial name: Place Louis XV
Other name: Place de la Révolution
Inauguration: 1772
Statue: Louis XV, destroyed and replaced by the Egyptian obelisk
Origin of the name: Reconciliation of the French people at the end of the Terror (bloody period during the French Revolution)
Location: 8th arrondissement, between the Tuileries Gardens and the Champs-Élysées, on the “royal axis”
Story: During the Terror, it was the location of the guillotine where among many others, King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette were beheaded.

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